When we think of crabs along the northern gulf coast the first thing that usually comes to mind is the blue crab. This is normal and to be expected but there is more to crabs than just the blue ones.If you’ve spent much time in the shallows or backwaters of the coast you probably have stepped on or seen slowly crawling around one of the smaller and more interesting crabs in Alabama – the hermit crab.The hermit crab can be easily distinguished other so called ‘true crabs’ because it doesn’t have a shell of its own. It’s found inside the abandoned shells of other invertebrates like whelks and periwinkles, as Hermit crab it doesn’t produce its own. Hermit crabs have a long, soft and coiled abdomen ending in a hooked tail and since they don’t make their own shell for protection they hide their vulnerable parts in the shells of others. These crabs have the usual two eyes on stalks, two claws and a mouth.While the hermit crabs of the gulf coast use the shells of other species for protection, other species of hermit crabs around the globe find other means of shelter. A species in the Indian Ocean uses bamboo cane.Other animal species uses the adopted home of the hermit crab as a place of their own. Sea anemones will often attach to the shells of hermit crabs. By doing this they not only obtain a free ride but lunch as well by dining on the scraps from the hermit crab’s dinner. Since hermit crabs are common beachside scavengers this is a good deal for the anemone. The crab also makes out on the deal as the anemone provides the hermit crab camouflage from predators. When a hermit crab out grows out it’s current home it will leave to find a larger one. Hermit crabs will fight each other for the larger shell if they need to.
People have found many uses for hermit crabs over the years. They’re kept around the house as pets in aquaria, used as fish bait and played with at the beach. When used for bait, shore or pier anglers will wade in the shallows the day before their fishing trip and collect a coffee can full of hermit crabs. They’re most often used as bait for sheepshead, which seem to think they are a delicacy.
You can find hermit crabs for sale in many shops along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. They have become so popular in some places that the sale of them has been banned. In Myrtle Beach, South Carolina hermit crabs have been sold for more than 30 years but now it’s illegal to sell them.
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